EXPLAINER: What will Neil Young’s protest mean for Spotify? | Economic news

By DAVID BAUDER and MATT O’BRIEN, Associated Press writers

NEW YORK (AP) — Neil Young vs. Joe Rogan seems like the strangest of culture clashes.

Yet the 76-year-old rock star’s protest against coronavirus-related content on Rogan’s popular Spotify podcast has sparked a heated debate over misinformation and free speech, bruising a streaming service that has become the central medium through which millions of people around the world experience music. .

“Rockin’ in the free world”? Not on Spotify. No more. Here’s what happens.

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His protest came after dozens of doctors and scientists wrote an open letter to Spotify, complaining about Rogan’s decision to have a podcast discussion with Dr Robert Malone, an infectious disease specialist who has been banned. of Twitter for spreading false information about COVID-19. Malone has become a hero in the anti-vaccination community.

Claiming Spotify was complicit in spreading false information, Young told the company he could have his music or Rogan’s podcast — “not both.” Spotify has agreed to remove its music from the service.

IS THE PROTEST SPREADING?

Slowly. Joni Mitchell said she stood in solidarity and also called for her music to be removed. So does Nils Lofgren, a guitarist who plays in one of Young’s backing bands, Crazy Horse, and also with Bruce Springsteen. Podcaster Brene Brown also said she was stopping new podcasts without saying exactly why.

Rock band Belly put the message “Remove Spotify” in the background of their Spotify page, but you can still stream their music. Ripping music from Spotify isn’t necessarily easy – it’s often the record company, not the artist, who controls this.

Spotify dominates the market. According to Midia Research, it held 31% of the 524 million music stream subscriptions globally in the second quarter of 2021, more than double that of second-placed Apple Music. Spotify isn’t always popular with musicians, many of whom complain that they don’t pay them enough for their work.

“Spotify has enormous cultural capital that is itself a power,” says Mark Mulligan of Midia Research. “And that’s the risk if more artists were basically trying to push their fans to other places.”

While losing Young and Mitchell might be a psychic blow, what would really matter is if a more current artist took up the cause. Everyone in Spotify’s 10 most-streamed artists list, led by Drake’s 44 billion, hails from the turn of the century, with the possible exception of Eminem, who first rose to popularity in 1999. .

For those artists, and for Spotify, taking a stand like Young’s would have far more serious financial consequences.

WHY CHOOSE ROGAN OVER YOUNG?

Music accounts for the vast majority of Spotify’s revenue, but Rogan represents its future.

Spotify reportedly paid more than $100 million to license Rogan’s most popular podcast. He is the centerpiece of the company’s strategy to become an audio company rather than just a music company. In the long run, Spotify has more control over potential revenue from podcasts than it does from music, Mulligan says.

The Swedish company aims to be the premier podcasting platform, investing hundreds of millions of dollars since 2019 to buy podcast companies like Gimlet and Anchor, and sign top-tier hosts like Rogan and Dax Shepard.

Spotify was expected to overtake Apple last year as the biggest podcast platform in the United States, the world’s biggest market, by number of listeners, according to research firm eMarketer.

Popular podcasters, especially outspoken ones, will likely be watching this protest very closely to see if Spotify will defend the right to speak freely.

WHAT IS SPOTIFY DOING TO CALM THE PROTESTS?

The company announced it would add a disclaimer before all podcasts that discuss COVID-19, directing listeners to factual information about the pandemic from scientists and public health experts. He didn’t specifically discuss Rogan.

Spotify has been more transparent in recent days about how it handles questionable content, and the new policy is a good first step, says John Wihbey, a professor at Northeastern University and an expert in emerging technologies.

Still, it’s not clear that anyone has effectively addressed the issue of misinformation spread by podcasts, says Wihbey. Will Rogan’s audience actually listen to an advisory and then seek out more information about COVID?

“It could just be a showcase,” he says.

Rogan spoke publicly for the first time on Sunday evening, saying he was sorry his critics felt the way they felt, and that he had no intention of upsetting anyone or spreading harm. fake news. He said he enjoys having conversations with people who offer different perspectives, and said some things once considered misinformation — that cloth masks weren’t good for protecting against COVID, for example. – are now accepted.

But he said he could do a better job of having people challenge controversial opinions like Malone’s more quickly so his listeners hear the different perspective.

Spotify’s math may change if the protest snowballs, says Colin Stutz, chief information officer at Billboard magazine. “I think they just hang out and hope it goes away,” he said.

DOES ROGAN NEED TO LISTEN TO MORE MUSIC?

Probably. He explained in a video posted on Instagram how much he loves Mitchell’s music. “‘Chuck E’s in Love’ is a great song,'” he said.

Whoops. It was Rickie Lee Jones.

To Rogan’s credit, he quickly corrected himself on Twitter.

Associated Press correspondents Kristin M. Hall and Tali Arbel contributed to this report.

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